WARNING- mature content (18+)

CHAPTER FOUR:

THE INFERNO

 

“A man who has not passed through the inferno of his passions has never overcome them.”

SORAH SUHNG & KATE COLORS

"It's been so long"

“Karnal, are you there?”

Tell him your name, pet.

 

Kathryn. My name is Kathryn…

 

“Ambassador Sin?”

 

Tell HIM.

 

She heard the chirp of the entrance to her chambers before opening her eyes.

 

“Yes, hold on…” she called out into the void of blackness behind her closed lids.

 

Karnal Sin rolled out of bed, grabbing the robe she had haphazardly thrown across the back of the lounging chair in the room. She knew it was Lucia at her door.

Despite Neros’s supposed intent on meeting with her after her return from the Dominion Homeworld, almost all her subsequent official interactions had been with the Imperial Secretary. They had been exhaustively going over the high-court register, trying to flag anyone that could possibly be involved with the conspiracy against the Neros and Dominion merger, amidst working out negotiations between their two societies. They had flagged over three hundred individuals and family houses who could possibly be involved as they vainly attempted to narrow down the ring leaders.

 

Karnal Sin’s mind had been working overdrive as she kept a running log of all the information she gathered, both directly and indirectly. She longed to be able to communicate securely with her Homeworld – instead of Jumping every time she needed to disclose sensitive information – but it seemed Neros had farther-along surveillance capabilities than initially anticipated.

 

She went to the door, pressing the button for outside entry.

 

“Did you not get my communique last night?” Lucia rushed through the door, pushing passed the Ambassador.

 

The blonde woman rubbed her eyes awake, clutching her robe close to her body, “Uhhh, no? I’ve been asleep…you know…that thing you apparently don’t do?”

Lucia breezed by the comment and stayed focus on her point, “I thought as much. You have a meeting with Neros finally. TODAY. Like…” she looked at the time display on Karnal’s wall, “in about thirty minutes.”

“Why now?” Karnal asked, blinking her eyes awake in earnest as she went through the mental list of what she had to do to get ready.

Shower.

 

Hair. She corrected herself quickly. No, no hair. That’ll take too long.

She rationalized to herself that by wearing her hair up for this meeting would be better, given that it would show off her wearing the gift that Neros had given her.

 

Uniform.

 

Make up.

 

Transit.

 

Can you even get all that done in thirty minutes?

 

“He just said that He wanted to meet with you today.” Lucia offered with a shrug.

Fortunately, Karnal Sin felt less ill-prepared than last time she met with the fourth dimensional creature, ruler to this realm. This time, she knew she just had to keep him occupied, the technological surveillance she wore would do the rest.

 

“Well,” Karnal smirked at her counterpart, “At least now I can schedule a trip home.” It was expected of her to have a direct meeting with her superiors back on the Homeworld after each meeting with Neros.

 

Lucia smiled at her, “To tell them all how we eat our children, no doubt.”

“Obviously.”

Lucia stayed focus despite her jesting, “You’ll be meeting with Neros in the Throne Room.”

“Is there an audience?” Karnal inquired.

 

“No. Just the two of you again.”

Interesting.

 

Neros was at least ten minutes late.

 

Karnal Sin stood at the foot of the throne inside the massive room that housed it. The cavernous walls were lined with perpetually lit braziers billowing lazy smoke that drifted into the void of the arched ceilings. Columns lined up with precision leading from the main entry across the vast distance to the apex of the room. The throne itself was painstakingly carved from gold, with the platform made of refracting Deltria that sparkled in the firelight of the chamber.

 

She wore her Reds and, shifting her shoulders to adjust the spikes adorning her uniform, she straightened her cape. With her hair up in a loose bun, tendrils of blonde hair framed her face and tickled the height of her posture collar.

Arriving just minutes before the scheduled time, she had mentally prepared to demure a semi-apology over making him wait.

 

But Neros wasn’t even there.

 

She waited another ten minutes before she began to fidget with her uniform.

 

He was now fifteen minutes late.

This is intentional. She thought to herself.

Clearly a power play, Neros was toying with her.

 

She resisted her instinct for only a second before succumbing to her knee-jerk reaction.  

 

Knowing she was alone, she defied the royal decree, using her powers for the first time since she was last in this very room. She lifted herself to float above the lowered floor. Guiding her body gently above the seat of power. She pulled her energy output back, slowly placing herself in Neros’s throne. The warmth of the material was beguiling, and while it didn’t move to her whim like that of Deltria made thrones of Overseer, the seat felt like it molded itself to her.

 

Karnal Sin sat in the throne, her hands splayed across the weaving and glittering armrests as she settled into the deep, heavy velvet back cushion.

 

She felt luxurious.

 

She felt conspicuous.

 

She felt powerful.

 

Crossing her legs, the red of her uniform bit dramatically across the brightness of the golden throne as much as Neros’s skin did. Her presence on the seat of power thrilled her a little more than she’d like to admit.

 

And so she waited.

 

And waited.

 

Keeping her back straight, she let the minutes pass her by as she kept her carriage at attention.

 

Her mind finally began to wander when she heard the gentle thudding of footsteps off in the distance in the expanse of the hall.

 

She lowered her chin just a hair to gain a better vantage of who was approaching her.

Despite herself, she recognized the cadence of steps.

Neros.

The ruler marched his way ever closer to her, the swing of his legs placed assuredly with each step, the flow of his cape majestic, as if planned, flowing from his collarbone, wrapped around the breadth of his shoulders to billow regally behind him. He never lowered his gaze, and due to his height, had no need to lift his chin to see her at her elevated position.

 

“Mistress Sin,” the words slithered out of his lips invitingly. It wasn’t just an acknowledgement, but a proposition.

 

“Your Excellency,” she returned to him just as playfully.

 

He stayed in place, a few feet below her stature, but still eye to eye.

 

“You look quite at home in my throne.” He smiled at her then. She acutely remembered how broad and inviting that smile of his was, as the same anticipatory feeling washed over her now. She couldn’t shake this encroaching feeling of wanting to please him.

A worthwhile feeling to elicit from those around you if you’re an absolute ruler. She reminded herself.

“We of the Dominion are practical people. You had me waiting. I needed a seat.”

He took two long strides forward, extending a large red palm to her, “Let us take our rightful places.”

Pleased that her retort to his maneuver paid off, she happily allowed herself to be dethroned at his request. She was surprised when he didn’t take his place in the throne in her stead but stood with her at the foot of the platform, “Gladly, Your Highness.”

 

As he served as her counterbalance on her descent from his throne, he volleyed to her, “Have you an aversion to calling me by name, Mistress?”

Karnal Sin had nearly forgot his offer to her at the closing of their first meeting.

“You may call me Neros, if you please, Mistress Sin.”

She chuckled at him, deflecting her own unintentional use of divisional language, “I had just assumed you were so stricken by my own charm and intellectual prowess that those words were the fevered doling of a misguided man.” She finished with a playful smile.

 

“Tell me, Mistress…does Overseer allow you such latitude in addressing him? Or do you save that just for me?” Had his words been spoken plainly, she would have worried. However, his lopsided close-mouthed smile punctuating his salvo reassured her that the deferential but lively circumstances he had left her in the last time they saw one another was alive, and well, and expected.

“I am but a humble blade of grass in the tempest of either of your demands, Neros.”

 

His towering body moved closer to her, as she arched her neck, straining the constraints of her posture collar to look up to him. One large, red hand lifted towards her face, gently caressing the embellishment on her ear.

 

“They suit you.”

 

“Thank you, Neros.” Admittedly, calling him by his chosen name, and not his title, did feel odd to her, but she was resolved to get through the awkwardness.

 

His hand lingered on the side of her face and she could feel the warmth of him even though he hadn’t touched her, “They are not just for decoration, Mistress Sin. Much like you, they are more than just ornamentation.”

 

“Oh?” She responded encouragingly for his explanation.

 

Neros pulled his hand back, but he kept the churning whites of his eyes locked onto her face, “Lucia tells me you will be going to your Homeworld again soon…”

Karnal Sin’s brows furrowed a bit before responding, “Yes. I have a social engagement I would like to attend.”

“I am glad to have seen you before you leave.”

 

She shifted her weight to one leg, her hip cocked to the side, “I will be back…”

“I would hope so.”

 

Karnal started to speak before he cut her off, “We’ll speak again when you return.”

Nonplussed, Karnal Sin watched in baffled silence as this creature – this absolute ruler of men – walked away from his throne, from her, and enter the enveloping darkness down the length of the room’s passageways.

 

She had no idea what this meeting was supposed to be about, but apparently, it was finished.

 

“Come on, Kat! I’ve seen you drink more than that!”

Karnal smiled, her eyes only a bit lidded from both inebriation and feeling just a little tired, bringing the glass of liquor to her lips, obliging her friend.

 

Ellius had spent a solid decade in the throngs of the Dominion Legion, rising to the rank of lieutenant by way of her dutifulness and initiative in the field. Legion, while not as disposable as the Vanguard, Ellius’s survival was noteworthy. She had deservedly earned a celebration of her retirement and reentry into the civilian population.

 

Placing the glass down, Karnal looked to her friend – her fiery red hair faux-hawk was rakishly perched on her head, with just a few tendrils of the emblazoned mane falling to the side as she excitedly shoved another drink into her ex-roommate’s hand.

 

For someone who was so straight-laced when she met her over a year ago, Ellius had learned to relax and enjoy herself during her time with the once-demoted Consort to Overseer. Karnal was glad to see it. Despite both her and Ellius’s best efforts, Karnal couldn’t help but be distracted with thoughts of all the assignments she was currently juggling, which severely limited her ability to celebrate.

 

Putting a hand in front of her, she waved away the offer with a soft smile, “In a minute, El, I need to breathe!”

Ellius narrowed her green eyes at the blonde woman, “You were LATE, Kat. You better catch up!” And with that exclamation, she spun away to mingle with the other partiers.

 

Karnal felt a small wave of relief from the pressure of attention and sat herself in a cushioned chair, leaning her back onto the comforts of leather and padding.

 

Idly eyeing her friend, she couldn’t help but feel more at ease. Maybe it was because Ellius had never treated her any differently when she was stripped of her rank and privilege, forced to room with a simple soldier; maybe it was because she came to trust the woman with her some of her secrets; for whatever reason, she never corrected her friend from addressing her the way that she demanded everyone else was required to. For El, she’d always be just Kat.

 

Da-Xia leaned over from her seat to Karnal, “Mistress…”

“Hmm?” Karnal didn’t turn to look at her, instead maintaining her relaxed posture. Her neck rolled back, free of her normal uniform, she felt free in civilian wear.

 

“Sicarius and I were discussing our new mission and we wanted to ask you something.”

The mention of her old commanding officer’s name caught her attention, though she didn’t change her demeanor. She wondered why he wasn’t here at the party, “Where is he?”

“He decided to stay in his barracks.”

Karnal both loved and loathed how literal Da-Xia could be sometimes. She answered the question directly without offering any further information to the implied inquiry.

“What’s your question, darling?” Karnal led her.

 

“With Ellius retiring, we thought perhaps we could bring her on board for the mission.”

Karnal turned her head, neck still arched back on the chair, “We’re only allocated two DIA officers according to Protium.”

“Do you not think we could get another? Just the two of us, for a long term undercover mission seems undermanned.”

The Ambassador shrugged, “I trust her – do you two?”

Da-Xia nodded emphatically once, “The lieutenant has shown herself a shrewd keeper of secrets, and a capable soldier.”

 

Karnal licked her lips idly thinking to herself before responding, “I don’t see why not. We’d have to up her security clearance. And ask her, of course.”

“She is a dutiful Legion – I am sure she will happily join in for the cause.’

The Consul couldn’t help but be amused at the die-hard enthusiasm all of the Vanguard seemed to share and project on every other Dominion citizen, military or otherwise, “We should ask her, anyway.”

Karnal looked at the wavering and giddy Ellius who was coming at the both of them with a drunken earnest look in her eyes, “When she’s sober.” she added.

 

As she watched the party-goers move amongst themselves, greeting one another in varying degrees of drunkenness and under the effects of other mind-altering drugs, she suddenly felt a buzzing by her ear. Waving her hand at it, thinking it a bug, the noise and sensation didn’t go away.

“So…you’re at a party?”

 

It was Neros’s voice.

 

Karnal Sin’s eyes widened and looked around, confused.
 

Ellius was mere inches away, “Dance with me, Da-Xia!”


Da-Xia, still nursing the singular drink she had in hand, didn’t share in Karnal’s sudden attentiveness, and instead stood up, joining Ellius in the festivities.

 

“Can you hear me, Sin?”
 

Yes…? She thought the word, so used to her telepathic-type communication via her piconet cell, to no avail.


“Karnal?”

 

“Yes?” This time she spoke out loud, albeit as quietly and unobtrusively as she could among the throng of people.

 

“Ahhh, there you are…” Hearing his voice purr directly into her ear was unnerving and exciting, the deep baritone of his timbre massaging her from the inside out, “I told you they were more than just decoration.”

“Evidently.” She was succinct, “Did you really need this kind of access to me,” she hesitated before choosing to call him by his title, “Emperor?” Karnal Sin fiddled a bit with the earrings she wore, the gift from Neros, although she couldn’t begin to know how the device worked inter-dimensionally.

Chapter4_1_ColorsSM.jpg

At Ellius's retirement party, Karnal Sin is contacted by Neros.

I’ll have to give them to Protium to study…

 

“If you’d prefer, we can always communicate via Lucia. This seemed more expedient for us working together.”

 

…at some point. She finished the thought to herself.

 

“So tell me…what are you celebrating?”

“A retirement of one of the Legion soldiers.” She offered honestly.

“Do you grace the presence of all soldiers’ retirements? Seems rather pedestrian for an Ambassador.” He sounded almost admonishing.

 

Karnal couldn’t help but chuckle, “She’s a friend.”

 

“I thought all of us at the top couldn’t afford friends.”

“I’m not at the top.”

 

“You’re close.”

 

“What time is it there?” She kept her voice hushed, keeping her eye on the crowd to make sure no one was really observing her talking into the void to herself.

 

“It’s the morning.”

 

“Can I ask how you’re doing this? I hadn’t realized that Nerian science had advanced enough to engage in inter-dimensional communication.”

She heard him hesitate, breathing before he responded, “Call it fall out from that present you gave me.”

Present? She thought to herself before her memories quickly reminded her – the local Jump technology.

During her brief meeting with Overseer and the other Consuls upon her arrival back on the Homeworld, Karnal Sin hadn’t disclosed the gift of the earrings from Neros. At the time, she hadn’t thought much of it, considering she had already previously mentioned his other gifts of gowns and jewelry to her. The fact that she had accepted this gift, out of all gifts, which was now proving to be far more than adornments, gave her a small pause of worry that she was actively deceiving her own regime.

 

“I’m impressed your scientists were able to retrofit the technology for this.”

 

“There’s so much you have yet to be impressed with.”

She wasn’t sure what he meant by that, but there was an exciting uncertainty that he seemed to be able stoke within her.

 

“It’s a pity that you reserve your celebratory behavior for lone soldiers of the Dominion. At all the parties you have attended here, you’ve hardly relaxed.”

“I promise you, I’m not very relaxed right now.”
 

“Am I distracting you from your revelry?”

In fact, Neros’s interruption to her evening was a welcomed distraction to both the maelstrom of thoughts and physical boredom. She found that the party, by her standards of stimulation, was somewhat dull. She was happy to be there for her friend, but she had become so accustomed to a breakneck speed of events happening around her that a gathering of friends and colleagues over drinks and other intoxicants just didn’t excite her anymore. Her threshold had shifted.

 

“I just have a lot of my mind. Lucia and I have been very busy serving you.”

 

“We both know you serve your master, Overseer…not me.”

 

She knew she shouldn’t, but his line begged it of her, and she couldn’t help herself, “You sound disappointed by that.”
 

“You presume to think that I want you to serve me, Mistress.”

Karnal hesitated for only a moment, getting a quick jolt of excitement from the danger in bantering with this other-worldly entity, “Don’t you want everyone to serve you?” She deflected expertly. They were playing a game of words in which they carefully treaded a line of what was appropriate and what was just over the line enough to taunt one another.

 

“Only if they are willing.”

 

She chuckled, licking her lips before responding, pressing her tongue on the point of one of her teeth, “As a ruler with absolute power, everyone has to be willing.”

 

He didn’t respond.

 

Karnal reached up and fidgeted with her earrings, thinking if the connection dropped.

 

But all she heard was silence.

 

She started to wonder if she had crossed an ill-defined demarcation when she was pulled from her seat by Ellius who wrapped her arms around Karnal’s waist, squeezing the air out of her, laughing, “Mumbling to yourself is the first sign, you know!”

Ellius let her go, grinning ear to ear as she was clearly searching her alcohol drowned mind for the right words, “Of…of…dimensional disillusionment!”

 

Da-Xia, a cohort to Ellius’s ushering of Karnal Sin out of her seat, nudged her friend, “derangement.”

“Yes!” Ellius exclaimed, her hands lifted into the air emphatically.

 

Willfully dismissing the dangling silence from Neros, Karnal Sin forced her mind to focus on the festivities, “I heard my inhibitions go next!” She pulled the earrings out of her ears and placed them in her pants pockets.

 

Da-Xia tilted her head to the side, “Go where?”

 

Ellius and Karnal leaned on one another laughing, “Come on, Da-Xia,” the Ambassador beckoned the bald woman to her, “You and I are far too sober.”

 

The three friends poured more drinks for one another, making Da-Xia’s especially strong, descending into a Karnal-rated tame, but no less fun, night of debauchery, laughter, and general revelry. Intermingling with the other partygoers, all of whom were women, Karnal felt momentarily freed from the confines of her own form and function. In this moment, in this small group of inter-specie socializing, but singularly gendered, she was conspicuously aware of the fact that the eyes of men were not on her.

 

The feeling of abandon dominated the rest of the night, hours melded together with the mass of women dancing with various imbibements – the wee hours leading several of the party to pair and group off for more intimate celebrating. Eventually, even Ellius snuck off to her own room, a couple of bodies in tow. It was then that Karnal Sin looked around and noticed she didn’t recognize any of the remaining revelers. Her alcohol addled mind tried to think of the last time she saw Da-Xia, failing miserably.

 

Looking at the time display on the wall, the drunken Ambassador made an executive decision to find her own bed – a trek from the Legion barracks back to the Vigil.

 

Not trusting herself to fly safely back to her flat, Karnal Sin grabbed a water pack from the cooler and left the party just as the sun was coming up. Planting one foot in front of the other, she walked slowly and dizzyingly across the greens and walkways. Passing Ludus after Ludus as the sun peaked through the buildings and the horizon, she looked up to see the planetary rings of the Homeworld disappear into the bright blue of morning light.

 

Stumbling her way into the Vigil, she hesitated at the crossroads of a hallway landing. Not feeling particularly tired anymore, with the false surge of a second wind, she wondered if Protium was mulling around his laboratory. Her blurry eyes peered through the glass of the doors to his workshop, but he wasn’t there. She spun on her heel, nearly tipping over, an empathic frown on her face. She saw a light coming from Orthus’s War Room but decided that no amount of inebriation could compel her to willingly socialize with that oaf. Sighing in exaggeration, she walked to the lift bay and made her way to her flat.

 

The familiar smell of her suite greeted her – a mix of orchids in the décor, a smoky labdanum incense, lavender in her soaps, and a creamy scent that laced the intricate detailing of every piece wooden of furniture and corner of the apartment. The room smelled like her – it was indulgent, heady, and immediately comforting.

Through instinct, she began to strip herself out of her clothes, tossing them carelessly in her aimless path to her bed. As she gripped the waistband of her pants, she remembered that she had put the earrings into one of the pockets. She dug down into the right pocket with no results, panicking that she may have lost the trinkets before finding them safely lodged in the left. She plopped them onto the nightstand as she finally pulled her pants off and crawled into bed in nothing but her lacey and sheer undergarments. Fluffing the pillows behind her head, she closed her eyes, trying to get comfortable.

 

She laid there, staring at the blackness of the ceiling of her penthouse, thankful she was smart enough to keep her digital blinds on before leaving for the day – it blacked out the morning sun almost completely and kept her in an easy darkness.

 

Karnal shifted, feeling restless.

 

Turning on her side, facing the nightstand, she could barely make out the dark shadow of the earrings resting on its smooth, wooden surface.

 

She bit her lower lip, but it only exacerbated her thoughts. She flipped, facing away from the temptation but she couldn’t help that she was almost wide awake – sleep would surely escape her.

 

A mere thirty minutes passed before she finally gave into tantalizing possibility of further stimulating conversation. Reaching over, she grabbed just one of the earrings and carefully placed her ear into the cradling cusp of the jewelry.

 

She didn’t speak, instead waiting to see if she could hear anything coming through the innocuous inter-dimensional transmitter.

 

Minutes passed, and a wave of disappointment lulled her nearly to sleep when she heard his voice.

“You can’t possibly still be awake, Mistress.”

Her eyes shot open and a betraying smile snuck up on her, “Barely, Neros.”

 

In her intoxicated mind, saying his name didn’t feel so awkward, and she mouthed it repeatedly in silence in the dark.

 

“When will you returning?”

 

“I have a brief meeting in a few hours, then I’ll make my way back.”

 

“Shall we plan on seeing one another again, then?” His words, while accommodating in content belied the tone of dominance – the question was a polite formality. Normally, she was at the mercy of his schedule, the shift in his expression of desire to meet with her caught her attention.

 

“I am at your leisure.”

The chuckle her words elicited from him made her smile.

 

“Then I hope you sleep well.” His bidding hummed and curled around her ears.

The buzzing died down and the communication was cut off.

 

She wore her smile to sleep.

 

Woken by her alarm only a few hours later, Karnal pulled herself out of her bed. Taking a quick shower to try to wash the night’s festivities off her skin, she slipped into her Reds and made her way to the Ludus she once trained in with the Vanguard. Da-Xia had convinced Ellius to meet with them in the morning – Karnal hoped that the two ladies were sober enough to have a meaningful discussion. Considering she had no idea how Da-Xia had ended her evening, she questioned whether either of them would even show up.

 

As the unrested Consul swung the doors of the Ludus open she hardly noticed the obedient standing at attention and uniform bowing of the mass of Vanguard to her entry and passing as she made her way towards the offices used by those in command.

 

Karnal Sin’s face, trained to maintain a neutral expression in the face of a variety of situations – that would otherwise elicit an extreme change from anyone else – struggled to stay straight.

 

“Sicarius. You were missed at the gathering last night.”

The one-eyed assassin and Captain to the Vanguard stood as she came in, bowing at the waist to his superior officer.

“Mistress. I apologize for my absence. I thought it best to let Ellius relax around her peers.”

 

The mousy brown hair looked almost ashy against the dark olive tones of his skin. Karnal did her best to keep the memories of their intimacy at bay, buried deep inside the recesses of her mind. She had to abandon him, and them – like she had to abandon her former self. It was strange for her, looking at him, a feeling of fondness was inescapable, but it was distant – as if it was a moment shared in time from someone else’s life.

 

“You consider me a peer?” She meant to say it in a teasing tone, but her voice betrayed her, throwing the words at him in a challenge.

Sicarius kept his head down, an accommodating obedience in his voice, “No, Mistress. I just meant that I felt my attendance would have disrupted the event.”

 

This level of banter was only fun for her in less potentially emotionally explosive circumstances and she was thankful when Da-Xia and Ellius burst through the doors – a wafting odor of alcohol and sweat quickly following their appearance.

 

Karnal took a sharp smell of the air and promptly began breathing through her mouth.

 

“Good, we’re all here. Everyone sit down.”

 

Ellius and her guide were still dressed in their civilian clothes from the night before, wrinkled and disheveled, but otherwise seemed cognizant of their surroundings and listened to their Mistress. The three soldiers grabbed chairs from the wall and pulled them, some louder than others, across the floor to form a circle around Karnal, “Ellius, I want you to feel no pressure in this request – assuredly none from me.”

The Ambassador straightened herself to her full height, adopting a stance of dominance to establish the gravity of the appeal, “The three of us are in agreement that you would be a worthy addition to a mission and directive from Overseer.”

The mention of Overseer brought Ellius’s aware but lax demeanor to an immediate straight-backed attentiveness.

 

“As you know, I have been off-world dealing with Neros I in the negotiations for their integration into the Dominion Systems.”

“Yes…” Ellius cautiously responded.

Da-Xia interjected, “Before we get into anything further, I think we should verify that she wishes to increase her security clearance, Mistress.”

“Very well.”

Sicarius reached down into one of the larger pouches that adorned his Greys, holding out a tablet to the retired Legion, “If you agree to be made privy to what our Mistress is going to divulge, we’ll need your genetic signature.”

Ellius, almost instinctually, reached out and placed her thumb on the tablet, a small beep of recognition initializing the approval process through the Dominion networks, bringing the red-haired woman further into the fold of the Dominion, even upon her exit from it.

 

Karnal nodded, “I have been restricted to the palace and its premises – so we are forming a clandestine team to infiltrate the civilian population to find out what is happening on the ground. I’m only able to find out so much information in my cage and we need real information and action in the field.”

 

“Action?” Ellius raised a slender eyebrow at her friend.

 

“All three of you will need to ingratiate yourselves amongst the people, so that way if we have need of it, we can foment civil unrest or support in whatever direction the Dominion decides upon.”

“So they don’t really have a choice?” The thought seemed to bother Ellius only slightly.


“Overseer has made his decision that Neros I and II will be formally brought into the Dominion, no matter the cost.”

 

Sicarius’s eye narrowed at her flippant referencing of sacrificing Legion to an unnecessary confrontation.

Karnal caught him from the corner of her eyes and he shifted in his seat as she continued on explaining, “We obviously want to avoid a bloody war. But Neros himself is too important to Overseer to wait around for him to make a decision he will ultimately come to anyway.” The mistress smirked a little at the irony of a creature such as Overseer, incapable of experiencing the passage of time as mortals do, seemed to lack patience in this one area.

 

Da-Xia scooted closer to Ellius, “The risk on this assignment isn’t going to be that bad according to the numbers provided to us by our DIA counterparts.”

“Yes,” Sicarius joined in on the cajoling, “We are assigned a specific DIA operative to work with us – they will feed us information in real-time, and vice versa, so we can seamlessly transition into the society.”

 

Ellius still looked dubious, looking up to Karnal Sin for some form of guidance – not as her Mistress and commanding officer, but as a friend.

 

“The two of them can pull this off, El.” Karnal smiled at her friend, “But it’d be a lot smoother with you on board to provide back up to this integration and an additional point of data and agitation.”

“And we trust you.” Da-Xia offered.

 

She watched as the two Vanguard earnestly pleaded with this now-retired Legion. Her eyes lingered on Sicarius’s profile. He was gritted in a look of determination. The scar of his wound interrupted the smooth planes of his face, but didn’t diminish his appeal. He was clean-shaven, and her mind began to project the look she had sought to bury in the depths of her memory when his strong jawline had been rakishly and lightly bearded. His face had been so close to hers, and she thought now that she could smell him.

 

Karnal Sin shook her head, clearing her thoughts.

 

“All of us,” she added, bringing herself back to the moment. “You don’t have to answer now. But the sooner you answer the better.”

 

She needed to get out of there.

 

She didn’t want to be late to return to her assignment.

 

“Da-Xia, please keep me informed of any progress for the execution of this project, with or without Ellius’s involvement.”

 

“Yes, Mistress.”

The Ambassador hurried out of the room without saying anything else and out of the Ludus. As soon as she was in the clear outside, she launched herself into the air for the quick flight back to the Vigil, back to the Portal Natatorium, and back to her mission.

 

As soon as she had gotten back, Lucia informed her that Neros had granted her a night of reprieve again from her journey. She was thankful for his understanding of the exhaustion taking its toll on her.

 

She was awakened after only three hours of sleep with an urgent knock at her door.

 

“Ambassador!”

 

Karnal rubbed her eyes, not getting out of bed, yelling out, “What is it?”

“Neros has requested your presence urgently!”

She looked over at the time display on her nightstand. It was the middle of the night, most of the palace was asleep, even the late-night revelers of one of the many formal functions that happened almost nightly.

 

“Very well. Leave the details at the door please.” She heard a shuffling of feet that eventually disappeared. Groaning, she ran both of her hands through her hair before thrusting herself out of bed and quickly changing into her Reds.

 

As she left her suite, she reached down and grabbed the tablet that the messenger had left.


It read: 

Ambassador Karnal Sin is to meet Neros in his private chambers immediately. See directions attached.

She smirked as she walked, “Good thing they gave me directions.”

Wondering what this could be about, she tucked some loose strands of hair behind her ear as she hurried herself according to the map provided. It irritated her to think that Neros was playing another game – getting her guard down in slumber only to jolt it awake to toy with her well-being. It seemed needlessly cruel when she had given him no reason for it.

 

Neros’s private chambers were located down a long, unprotected hallway that opened into an enormous room with vaulted ceilings that, much like his throne room, disappeared into the darkness. The only illumination was the crackling and robust fire a few dozen feet in front of her. She scanned the room for the Emperor – from the left she saw a massive bed with plush bedding and drapery. The glint of metal flickered in the firelight. From there she saw a Neros-sized high wing back chair, but it was empty.

 

Suddenly the light from the fireplace shifted and she noticed then that Neros was moving slowly back and forth across the hearth.

 

Karnal Sin looked at Neros with some caution, the fiery white of his eyes were pulsating quickly and blazed bright in the relative darkness of his private chambers. While Neros was diametrically different to Overseer, she assumed the speed of that light emanating from him was an indication to his agitation or excitement.

“Sit down.” He commanded her, without showing her where. She walked to the empty chair and lifted the weight of it to turn it more towards him. 

 

Neros was slowly pacing the room, the roar of the fire behind his stature enveloping him in a bright halo that rimed the redness of his skin, playing tricks on her eyes to make it look like the whole of him was glowing. Each step was heavy and full of intent, the usual air of casualness he normally carried with him all but gone. He was shirtless but wore a loose and flowing robe that purposefully dragged on the floor like the majestic train of royal garb.

 

She sat, back straight, much like she had the first time they had met in private – that feeling of unsureness surging strongly within her – the memories of their friendly and flirtatious banter replaced by an uneasy fight or flight response. Her nerves were on edge as she waited for him to speak.

 

Her patience ran out as he made his ninth pacing arc around the hearth.

 

“Why have you asked for me, Neros?”

His head, which had been contemplatively bowed down as he had moved earnestly in his suite, snapped up to look at her as she addressed him.

 

She found him handsome, but right now she found him just a little terrifying, the blaze of his eyes fixated on her.

 

“My ministers have informed me of unrest amongst my people.”

The thought of his obedient populace, so fearful of reprisal from their God-Emperor and his Blessed, without the insidious aid of the Dominion operatives, genuinely surprised her.

 

“Unrest?” She asked innocently.

 

The flaming white eyes narrowed at her, his voice lowering in pitch with each sentence, “You…” he corrected himself, “The Dominion – You preach of your moral righteousness, of your superiority…”

 

He began to stalk towards her as he spoke, “You seek to disrupt anything that doesn’t fit into your narrative.”

 

Karnal didn’t move, keeping herself solidly planted in her seat, meeting his hot gaze head on. She knew, in times like this, a boiling rage would reveal more information than if immediately confronted. She was still, after all, the Castra – such unfiltered information could prove useful.

If you survive. The thought of what he was capable of doing to her was gnawing at the back of her mind as he closed the gap between them. She knew he had burnt an entire planet to the ground to satisfy his needs – what would one would-be Blessed, like her, be to him but kindling to his inferno?

 

She let him rage.

“You have a subservient population, as do we, but you shroud yourselves in sanctimonious lies!” He seethed the words out. A mere three feet from her now, she noticed the splayed hands by his side and the increase of brightness of the fire behind him despite his broad body blocking out the entirety of the firebox frame. White eyes widened as she carefully lifted herself to a standing position, her neck arched as she looked up at his towering height.

 

“While we have patiently been working with your regime to make a peaceful transition into the Dominion Systems, we have no current reason to agitate your population.” She kept her voice even, without malice.

 

He sneered at her, “You can’t lie to me.”

 

The matter-of-factness of his statement unnerved her and a wave of deja-vu played with the corners of her memories.

 

She had heard that before – said with the exact same amount of confidence – but where?

“You have caused a civil division amongst my people and you expect me to believe that it was all unintentional?”

“I have no idea what you are talking about, Neros. I have been trapped in this palace since the day I got here.”

 

“Stop lying to me, Karnal. I know the truth!”

 

There it was again, the feeling of familiarity with the words. But they were spoken before from a softer voice. A feminine voice. The confusion building up in her was beginning to override her decision to stay calm and rational as a memory taunted her mind – staying out of focus.

 

“I am telling you the truth!” She blurted out angrily, as her attention to recalling who and why she knew these accusations and statements from someone other than the man before her.

 

“More lies.” He practically hissed it at her, the deep baritone of his voice rising in volume as he lobbed another accusation, “You broke your own rules, Ambassador Sin. You violated our trust and you have wrought a situation here that I now have to take care of myself.” He cut the words like blades in the air, chopping them at the ends in irritation.

“What rules did I break?” She clenched her fists. Anger started to build in her – she didn’t mind being accused of most things so long as they held some semblance of truth to them. She was used to being called a liar – but in this instance, she had no idea what he was ranting about.

 

“That little present your people gifted me.” The realization of what he was charging her with started to make sense, “What, did you think I forgot?”

 

At the summit, the Dominion had changed the gift from was agreed upon to be given to Neros and his people. Instead of an artistic representation of goodwill, Overseer had presented him with technology that was new and foreign to the planet – a small local Jump gate. She knew at the time it would have repercussions, but so much time had passed – and he had mentioned it casually when she asked about the earrings’ abilities to communicate transdimensionally – she thought perhaps Neros had decided to let it slide.

She was wrong.

 

“I am the Master to all my people – I provide everything they need. I am the beginning and the end of their existence. I am the divine sovereign! The divine authority! You insisted on this public display DELIBERATELY to undermine me and the way of life here! You INSULT me by denying this? I didn’t think you were stupid, Ambassador!”

 

But the anger was already coursing through her, and her defensiveness began to reach for a myriad of threads of explanation.

 

It wasn’t her fault. She had no idea that the gift had changed. No one ran that decision by her. How could it be her fault?

 

“If you can’t be honest with yourself, little girl, who can you be honest with?”

Karnal Sin’s eyes flared – a rim of red light momentarily glinting on the waterline of her eyes – and she suddenly remembered where she had heard these words before.

 

Red.

But by this point it was too late – she felt the rage and indignation come to a boiling point and her entire demeanor shifted aggressively.

 

“Do not think that because I show deference to your position as ruler of your little empire that you can speak to me that way.”

 

Neros looked momentarily shocked at her retort and attitude, at a loss of words.

 

She took advantage of his silence and continued, driving her point home.

 

“If you were really so capable of ruling over your own people, such a diplomatic error would have been dealt with adeptly and swiftly.” She inched towards him threateningly. “Instead, you wake me up in the middle of the fucking night to yell at me over something so insignificant because your EGO is bruised?”

 

One large red hand reached out from behind the ornate fabric draped across his substantial frame and grabbed her upper arm. She clenched her jaw defiantly, barely blinking as her eyes matched his in expression of anger and frustration.

 

“How DARE you!” He growled at her.

“How dare YOU treat a representative of a superior society with this much disrespect!” She rebutted.

He scoffed, not letting go of her, his grip tightening around her slender arm. She could feel the heat of him on her bare skin, it was almost too hot, almost burning. As the warmth seeped through her to reach her bones, he snarled, “Superior?”

 

It was her time to sneer, the blinding animus inside of her fueling her words, “You are a backwater world with inferior technology. You hold resources we want, nothing more. Overseer is intrigued by you specifically and so has made us waste our time in this idiotic dance of diplomacy.” She began to laugh derisively as she spoke, “But…ha…if we really wanted to, or needed to? We could descend upon both your planets with wave after wave of Legion to crush you. Nothing would be left if we deemed you unworthy to exist. You exist right now because we choose for you to exist.”

 

The savagery she was explaining excited her as she continued, “We’ve done it before without blinking. Have you ever done that? Cleansed a planet of its sins? Committed mass genocide because some evolutionary threads should be cut off completely?”

 

The most recent example of this, she recalled as she formed her next volley, was that of Sutu’s home planet Hilosso, or Phi-3-5. Populated by a vile breed of creature who had artificially created Sutu’s species for a life of servitude and abuse. She had no qualms with the Dominion unilaterally deciding that these creators need not exist anymore. And she would have no qualms with it here on Neros I, if needed.

 

“We have. And with much more advanced civilizations than yours.”

 

She took her free hand and brought it to his chin, tucking her palm so her thumb could trace across his jawline, her sense of impropriety lost in the turbulence of her provoked state of mind, “From our experience, you Nerians are simple brutes.” She finished in a near whisper.

 

Neros said nothing, giving her a stern look, his chest rising and falling quickly as he took in her words.

 

Karnal Sin had a smug smile on her face as she obstinately stood her ground against him. She felt powerful and victorious in belittling him, making him pay for his wild and uncontrolled behavior – and interrupting her precious sleep.

He lowered his face, finally breaking the silence with a threatening whisper, “You think me nothing more than a brute?” He punctuated his question by grabbing her wrist of the hand on his chin – she was immobile with him holding onto her.

 

“I haven’t begun to show you what kind of brute I can be, Mistress.” He pulled her against him, lifting her up to meet his mouth as he kissed her.

It was a rough kiss, one in which the pressure of his insistence caused her teeth to crush the tender flesh inside her lips until she acquiesced to his quiet but forceful demand. She opened her mouth to relieve the pressure and he deepened the embrace, their tongues, having had feuded one another verbally, were now battling one another literally.

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She was so stunned, she didn’t resist – and she couldn’t even if she wanted to. He had such a tight grip around her, that without outright attacking him with a burst of energy, she was at the mercy of his physical presence.

 

Neros kept her pinned to him, running the hand that had been gripping her arm down the side of her, cupping her backside and pulling her ever closer. The heat of him was intoxicating – simultaneously making her want to bury herself in it and run away.

If his blood was molten lava, he was thinning hers out to the point of her feeling lightheaded.

It’s been so long, Kathryn…

The words, spoken by a part of her mind that she had questioned the very existence of, rang in her ears as she relaxed in his arms, pushing back against him in the kiss just as forcefully. He responded perfectly, releasing his grip only to bury his hand into the thick of her long blonde hair. He clutched at her tresses and pulled her head back, ripping her mouth from his, compelling her to arch her neck, exposing her throat to him. Starting at the base of her ear, sending a river of shivers down her spine, he trailed his teeth down the length of her neck until he met the resistance of her posture collar.

The pain of him pulling her hair only accented the intense sensations of his touch upon her and she began to succumb to total abandon. She trembled against him, his hot breath almost matching the heat of his bare skin against hers. She was on fire.

Karnal Sin is taken by surprise at Neros's advances.

“No…” she could barely speak, the arch of her neck straining her vocal cords.

 

“You want me to stop?” Neros pushed her head forward with his fistful of her golden locks, looking into her eyes with lidded desire, the swirling white fire of his gaze tempting her.

 

She couldn’t dare answer him honestly, “I have to go…” she said between quick breaths, her body quaking.

 

Without hesitation, he released her, gently placing her back onto the ground. Steadying herself, she looked up at him, the dark blackness of his hair falling forward as he looked down to her. It framed him enticingly.
 

Not knowing how to bid him goodbye, she lowered herself into a quick curtsy before turning on her heels and walking as deliberately and calmly out of his private chambers. She could feel the heat of his gaze on the back of her head as she moved further from him, and as she lost her proximity to temptation, she was able to catch her breath. Finally turning the corner from the long hallway that led back to him, she ran as quickly as she could to her quarters.